Saturday, April 28, 2018

I hate PowerPoint

Imagine you had to give a presentation to a fairly large group. The topic is something you know something about. The quarterly report. The latest advances in merkins. Whatever.  And while you're delivering this presentation you also have to put on rock climbing gear. Bulky jacket,boots, lacing up the heavy boots, attaching one or two harnesses, stocking up on flares and picks. All this while you're analyzing T.S. Eliot poetry.

Well for the most part, that's what it's like when you do a presentation with PowerPoint. Ive been to a number of conferences lately where good speakers with interesting topics were derailed by PowerPoint presentations. They spent half their talks fumbling around with slides. At first the audience is patient and has a little empathy. But after five minutes you want to scream, "Hey, numnuts! They're friggin' bullet points. Who gives a shit?! Just talk!".

PowerPoint and similar programs kill more lectures than they help. Yes, if you need visuals, fine. Let's say you're explaining how Facebook works or just "what is pornography?"  Slides would help -- in some cases the bigger, the better.

But now you can easily make graphs and graphics to just underscore the text of your talk. 68% of homeowners have spice racks.  "I don't believe you. Oh wait, I'm now looking at a slide of a spice rack and underneath it says 68% of homeowners have these. Okay, you sold me!".

The truth is speakers now use PowerPoint as a crutch. They think the can jazz up their presentations with visual aids. All too often though this results in technical snafus, fumbling around, the wrong slides, and takes the speaker right out of any rhythm. And most of the time the slides are boring, hard to read, and unnecessary.

Some people think if they don't arm themselves with PowerPoint that the audience will think they're unprepared. That's bullshit!

As a speaker, your job is to communicate. Talk to us. Share ideas, if it's a topic you're excited about let us see that.  You don't have to be the worlds greatest speaker. But your genuine enthusiasm will sell your message. Not a dizzying display of pie charts.

A helpful tip that will mean more than a slide proclaiming "4 warning signs of gum decay" is to start your talk with a story. People love stories and it puts them at ease. People think you have to begin with a joke -- the great woody Allen intro: " I'm reminded of the incestuous farmer's daughter...". No. You don't have to do that. If you got a great joke and you're good at delivering jokes then yeah, kill 'em. But a brief story, preferably personal, will achieve the same goal of disarming your crowd.

Speak with passion. Again, you don't have to be Billy Graham or Zig Zigler. But make us understand why the topic is interesting to you. In this case, a well placed word is worth a thousand pictures.


Alan Christensen said...

That reminds me of the Gettysburg PowerPoint.

Anonymous said...

Powerpoint: The kudzu of modern communication.

Listening to a Powerpoint is like riding a bicycle down the aisle of a moving train. You feel like you are going somewhere but you are not.

Terrence Moss said...

I HATE Powerpoint because, to your point, it HAS become a crutch in presentations.

All I need are handouts.

JR Smith said...

Hah! I took a short coffee break this morning from working on a lengthy Keynote (Apples' version of PowerPoint) presentation for the head of our company, popped over to your blog and chuckled when I saw this post!

Ok, I gotta go. 11 more slides to make...

VincentS said...

I think the widespread use of PowerPoint is due more to successful marketing resulting in the subsequent peer pressure - What do you mean you don't do PowerPoint? What are you a dork or something? - rather than how useful it actually is. The great trial lawyer Gerry (I got Imelda Marcos off) Spence made the same point you did about not making a joke as part of a presentation. This posting actually made me think of a Friday question: I read a blog posting by a professional screenwriter (whose credentials I confirmed) that said that he used charts to show the progression of a story and the characters. I thought that was just an opinion that I could take or leave until I read further and he wrote that Steven Spielberg stuck his head into a presentation of this kind, looked at the chart and said, "Good. All screenplays should be presented that way." Have you ever done this and/or do you know any writers who do and how popular it is in the industry?

Tom said...

This deserves reposting; I can say from experience that most of the world didn't pay attention last time.

In my youth the equivalent was whenever a teacher wheeled a TV into the room: you then knew that you were about to get a repeat of the last lesson, but very, very slowly and with 80% of the detail missing. I'll never understand why people think that just saying things in a presentation isn't enough.

miller langhorne said...

Thank you for this! I worked in research for two of the big networks, and everything I shared with mgmt or sales team or the dog next door, HAD to be powerpoint. After awhile I realized the information/ratings/stats were secondary to the look of the slides, as my manager frequently asked me to redo the colors, fonts, background, the mona lisa. What really did me in was when the term shifted from powerpoint to "decks". Sheesh, I hated that term - I would never use it and always said "powerpoint". Another term which was equally grating: elevator pitch. Good grief, just say brief explanation... no wonder the 4 nets are suffering - run by a bunch of idiots more concerned with the latest nomenclature rather than the few basics that make a network profitable!

James said...

I had a job where I had to give occasional presentations and I got some actual training from people who do it for a living. One of the things they did was to turn on the graphics (slide projector, powerpoint, overhead transparencies, whatever), use it to make their point and then turn it off again. It was very effective. I've never seen it done again.

I don't like Powerpoint. It makes it easy to get into a lot of bad habits.

That said, I love this: the Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation.

cd1515 said...

Totally agree, every PowerPoint I’ve ever had to sit thru was the guy just READING RIGHT OFF THE SCREEN WE COULD ALL SEE.
And it takes him LONGER to read it out loud than we can silently, so you read the whole thing and have to wait for him to finish.
One of society’s worst ideas.

Mike Bloodworth said...

The ironic thing to me is that today these things are done on a computer. Somebody plugs in their laptop and controls things from there. You'd think that that would have fixed the problems of the past. I remember when people used actual slides shown on a slide projector. That "clickety klack" sound is something I still associate with most presentations. And the latest advance in merkins is microfiber faux fur. Natural appearance, softer feel.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Jackie Vernon's signature routine was a narrative/slide show of an African safari, with only the "clickety clack" sound. It's easy to find on YouTube, and still very funny.

Ken, what are you into that involves all these presentations? Are you developing yet another career in real estate? Monitoring artificial islands built by China? Designing a car that runs on laughter? Please let us know (if you can).

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I commend to all of you the very fine powerpoint presentation Matt Blaze submitted to the RSA conference in 2011 after they kept demanding his slides:

(Ken: trust me. You want to look.)

Matt said...

In the Army command and staff school we had to take a class in presentations. The three things I remember from that class are:

1. Use color schemes that are pleasant for the audience;
2. Don’t read your slides;
3. Go to the back row where you are giving your presentation and make sure the slide is readable.

Chris said...

I'm reminded of a presentation I had to give in college, pre-PowerPoint. It was a course in linguistics, one of those cattle call classes in a huge hall and, for some reason, there was a group project involve. "Pick people around you in a harried, desperate rush" kind of things. We all had to do the "research", we all had to help crunch the numbers, but two of us had to give the presentation. The other guy took the explanation, I got to explain the numbers. You know, the boring part. The dry part. The Part of Death.

He finished the explanation, the process, the surveys etc etc and turned the (wireless! OOH!) mic over to me. And I explained that we took all that data, all those numbers, all those surveys and crunched it down to the following numbers: 3, 7, 73, the square root of negative one and "e", although not necessarily in that order.

The auditorium was full of students who looked at me like a dog that had been shown a card trick. Utterly silent except for one, long, loud laugh from WAAAAY in the back.

The professor lost his shit.

It's all about knowing your audience. And who the most important person in that audience is. We passed.

Tudor Queen said...

As a college history instructor, I do use PowerPoint along with my lectures. I use visuals a great deal, sometimes to indulge my love for humor and/or pop culture references, sometimes to illustrate, sometimes for analysis of visual images (e.g. contemporaneous paintings for the 'messages' they send). I also make them available to my students as they prepare for assignments, quizzes, etc. My students seem to like and appreciate them.

Then last week I wanted to explore a line of inquiry in some detail and I didn't have time to make relevant slides. I 'straight-lectured' for an hour or so. At the end, I asked the students how that had gone for them, and they all seemed to agree that they had enjoyed the lecture.

So... maybe I need to reconsider the whole PowerPoint issue.

So maybe I

Cap'n Bob said...

This post could have benefited greatly by the addition of some photos and graphs.

Gary said...

I was in marketing for 24 years so I sat uncomfortably through countless PowerPoint presentations, and also gave a good many myself.

To oversimplify it, I found that the employees who were already good at public speaking also gave good PowerPoint presentations, while the lousy speakers did not. Used properly, PowerPoint can certainly enhance the message of a good speaker -- but it cannot save a bad one.

I quickly learned that with PowerPoint, less is definitely more. No sound effects, no flying text, no other bells & whistles. Use interesting visuals to illustrate your message. Bullet points should just summarize your talking points. All of this is pretty much common sense -- or so you would think.

JoeyH said...

A book called "Presentation Zen" is a great primer on how to effectively use slides...there's a right way.

Bob B. said...

PowerPoint is a tool. Much like a hammer, in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to use it properly it can lead to disastrous results. But in the hands of a skilled speaker it can drive home ideas and analyses with pinpoint precision.

If someone takes a hammer and immediately breaks a window, don't blame the hammer. If PowerPoint puts you to sleep don't blame the software.

Daniel said...

Possible Friday Question: I watch most movies and TV series on my Mac, and purchase most my favorites through iTunes (not a big fan of streaming and things disappearing at random when contracts run out). The entire run of "Cheers" is available on iTunes in HD (high definition), but with "Frasier," only the last two or three seasons are in HD. As someone with industry knowledge, do you know why Paramount (or whoever owns both series these days) was willing to make the necessary investment to make all of "Cheers" HD but not willing to make the same investment for "Frasier"? I would think that with more and more people watching on HD screens, standard definition releases will become less and less attractive to some viewers. Plus, I'm selfish and just want all of "Frasier in HD. :-)

estiv said...

If you haven't heard the name Edward Tufte before, you should look him up. He's a very knowledgeable expert on communications, and presents day-long seminars on how to communicate, particularly in business, particularly using modern tools. He makes a point of letting people know how little he thinks of PowerPoint, mostly because it's usually so badly used, but also because it was poorly designed even for its ostensible purpose.

Steve said...

I am a big fan of the British comedian Dave Gorman who uses PowerPoint presentations as part of his act

blogward said...

After attending (as a technician) about 14 Powerpoint presentations a week for 12 years (about 8000), I can remember only one point that a presenter made. Slides? He had a funny prop, and got a big laugh. Powerpoint is a usually a crutch, not a prop.

Andrew said...

There are some truly great Dilbert cartoons about PowerPoint presentations. Just do a Google search.

McAlvie said...

Just hand over print outs. People are much more apt to pay attention when they have pen and paper in front of them and can make notes. When something is up on a screen, our brains tend to check out and go to lunch. Something on a screen is a distraction from the speaker.

Technology ... listen, I love tech stuff and I'll give up my smartphone kicking and screaming. But - most of it is poorly designed for getting people to pay attention to anything but their screens. Even electronic notes are a distraction because you aren't note taking, you are basically transcribing. And along the way you get distracted with thoughts about fonts and spacing and squirrel! ... oh look, a much more interesting YouTube video. Even if you stay on track, your fingers are acting independently of your brain. Trust me, I began my working life transcribing Dictaphone tapes. 75% of my brain was putting together a grocery list and replaying an argument.

But when you put pen/pencil to paper, you are actively participating in the listening process, and you will retain much more as a result. Even simple notes (does anyone even know how to do notes anymore) work better than keying something in, because your notes will consist of relevant info that triggers your memory. Heck, I even remember things better when I'm reading from paper than when I'm reading from a screen.

I'm not yelling at kids to get off my lawn. I LIKE technology. When it adapts to us, works WITH our natural human abilities instead of expecting us to adapt to it, it's a huge boon. But PowerPoint is really just another screen. You can stare at it all day long without remembering what it says.

Coram Loci said...

While reading this and watching the NFL Draft I was reminded an alleged "leak" of Vince McMahon's notes to the broadcast team. One of the notes: "Don't describe what it plainly observable. Instead, add to it."

This weekend Mike Mayock was routinely asked to provide insight regarding an unfamiliar player. A graphic would appear. Bullet points in the graphic. A highlight reel. And then...Mayock reading the bullet points that we could all read for ourselves. A wasted opportunity.

Pseudonym said...

Fun fact: According to Edward Tufte, Powerpoint was a cause of both space shuttle disasters (Challenger and Columbia).